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Johnson, Ben 1961—

Ben Johnson 1961

Olympic runner

At a Glance

Academic Trouble Turned Focus to Athletics

Rivalry With Carl Lewis Proved Inspirational

Discovery of Steroid Use Crippled Career

Sources

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson has entered the 1990s determined to rescue his tarnished reputation. For most of the 1980s Johnson was among the most famous and best-loved athletes in Canada and his long-standing feud with American runner Carl Lewis earned him great attention in the United States as well. Once an Olympic, gold medalist and the fastest man on earth, Johnson was stripped of his honors for using anabolic steroids to enhance his performance. His downfall at the 1988 Olympic games and his subsequent confession to years of steroid use came as a blow to track fans worldwide. Macleans contributor Bob Levin wrote: [Johnson] was a rocket, a role model, a national hero. To Canadians, he was never Johnson, just Ben. But when the steroid scandal burst upon the world, Canadians, who had risen as one to applaud Johnsons triumph, doubled over in sickened disbelief, taking Johnsons humiliation as their own. Children wept openly. Many people clutched at faint hopes of some innocent explanation. Others branded Ben a betrayer, a cheat.

Johnson served a two-year suspension imposed by the International Amateur Athletic Federation and was reinstated for competition in September of 1990. Having spent his days of suspension crusading against drug use in Canadas schools and amateur athletic clubs, the young runner was able to regain some of the respect he had lost. The rest of that respect he hopes to earn back on the track. Washington Post correspondent Christine Brennan noted that the citizens of Canada were embarrassed by [Johnson]; now they love him. Johnson is Canadas prodigal son. Brennan quoted Toronto Sun columnist Jim OLeary, who called the runner a risk taker and a high-wire act in a nation of couch potatoes. [Canadians] admire his flair, applaud his success and now seem determined to cushion his fall with a net of public sympathy.

Ben Johnson, Jr., was bom in Falmouth, Jamaica, on December 30, 1961. Falmouth, a formerly prosperous seaport that has fallen upon hard times, is about 17 miles east of Montego Bay. The Johnson family was reasonably successful, with a pleasant home and a large yard. Ben, Sr., had a regular job repairing telephones for the Jamaica Telephone Company; he also raised chickens, ducks, cows, pigs, vegetables, and bees. The fifth of six

At a Glance

Full name, Benjamin Sinclair Johnson, jr.; born December 30, 1961, in Falmouth, Jamaica; son of Ben (a telephone repairman) and Gloria (a cook and waitress) Johnson. Education: Graduated from Yorkdale High, Ontario, Canada; attended Centennial College, Ontario.

Sprinter and relay runner, 1977-88 and 1990. Appeared in the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, 1984, earned two bronze medals, for 100 meter race and 400 meter relay; earned four indoor world records, 1987, including a 9.83-second finish in the 100 meter in Rome; appeared in the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, 1988, earned gold medal, for 100-meter run, stripped of medal and banned from Olympic competition for two years after urine test revealed steroid use. Re-instated to Olympic eligibility, 1990.

children, Ben, Jr., grew up outdoors, running and swimming in the nearby ocean at every opportunity. Wed take off all our clothes and swim naked all day, Johnson told Macleans. We couldnt get our clothes all wet up or everyone would know what wed been doing. Even in dry clothes, my parents could tell if Id been swimming, because they could see the sea salt drying white against my black skin and I would get a beating.

Johnsons mother told Macleans that her son would never walk when he could run. I would turn my head for a moment, and he would be far in the distance. Johnsons childhood heroes included famous sprinters Donald Quarrie of Jamaica and Hasely Crawford of Trinidad, but his most immediate inspiration was his older brother, Edward. While Johnson was still quite young his brother earned a spot with the Conquerors track club. Soon the youngster was tagging along to meets and earning small change in informal street races. In school Johnson was an average student who was bothered by a speech impediment; his teachers remembered him as shy and withdrawn.

In 1972 Johnsons mother decided that her children needed a better education than rural Falmouth afforded them. She had a friend who had emigrated to Toronto, so she boarded a plane and went to look for work in Canada. Eventually she got a full-time job as a cook and moved Johnson and three of his siblings into a two-bedroom flat in suburban Toronto. I went because Mom went, Johnson told Sports Illustrated of his move north. I didnt really know where I was going. For a short time Ben, Sr., joined the family, but eventually returned to his job with the Jamaican telephone company. Father and son remained on good terms, however, visiting on holidays and communicating by phone.

Academic Trouble Turned Focus to Athletics

The transition to Canadas schools proved difficult for Johnson. His Jamaican accent and stutter led to placement in remedial classes. I didnt like to go to school, Johnson confessed in Sports Illustrated. He did manage to graduate from Yorkdale High, though his reading and mathematics skills were judged to be very basic. Johnsons interests decidedly lay elsewhere. In 1977 he accompanied Edward to the Scarborough (now Mazda) Optimist Track Club, where both brothers began to train with coach Charles Francis. Francis himself had been an Olympic sprinter for Canada in the early 1970s. He was hardly impressed by the lanky young Johnson. The coach told Macleans: He was small for his age and so skinny that I thought he was 12, not 14.

When he arrived at the Scarborough Optimist Track Club Johnson could hardly run a lap around the track without collapsing from exhaustion. But after six months of Franciss coaching the youth gained 43 pounds and six inches of heightand became a formidable runner as well. In 1978 Johnson placed fourth in the 50 meter dash at the National Indoor Track and Field Championships in Montreal. Only two years later he ran a close second in the one hundred meter event in the Canadian mens championships. By then Coach Francis was truly excited about his young prospect and the two became fast friends.

In 1980 Johnson encountered superstar Carl Lewis for the first time when both competed in the Pan-American junior championships in Sudbury, Ontario. Lewis easily outdistanced Johnson on that occasion, as he often would over the next four years. The defeatand Lewiss affable, easygoing mannergalled Johnson, who became determined to run faster than his confident rival. Francis counseled patience and Johnson worked methodically to improve his times and build his upper body strength. Ben never has to learn anything new, Francis told Sports Illustrated. He can perfect every exercise. The core sprint exercisesthe hips, the upper legs, the armsare where he goes high. At 15 Johnson weighed only ninety-three pounds; seven years later he was a 175-pound marvel who could bench press 335 pounds. He was still unable to defeat Lewis, however, who took four gold medals in the 1984 Olympics. The 1984 Games proved quite disappointing for Johnson; he was forced to settle for two bronze medals while the public fawned over Lewis.

Rivalry With Carl Lewis Proved Inspirational

The feud between Johnson and Lewis grew ever more heated as the two runners exchanged barbs through the press, each predicting the others defeat and disgrace. In 1985 Johnson finally proved that he could beat Lewis when he won the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. During most of the following two years Johnson absolutely dominated world track events. He won the one hundred meter race at Moscows 1986 Goodwill Games in record-breaking fashion with a 9.95-second time. The following year he was undisputed champion with four indoor world records and an absolutely stunning 9.83-second finish in the outdoor World Championships in Rome. The dazzling victory in Rome, where Johnson finished a full meter ahead of Lewis, left no room for doubt: Ben Johnson was proclaimed the fastest man on earth and was hailed as Canadas finest athlete.

Even then Carl Lewis suggestedin a roundabout waythat Johnson was using performance-enhancing drugs. Johnson and his trainers countered that he had passed any number of urine tests after his meets. Indeed, a test run just after the Rome race yielded negative results, leaving most observers certain that Lewiss charges were merely a matter of sour grapes. Johnson did face other problems as he reached the height of his profession, however. A hamstring injury sidelined him and he quarreled with Francis over treatment methods. His schedule became clogged with product endorsements and time-consuming business deals and the press questioned his amateur status as he spent lavishly on homes, sportscars, and art objects. Reflecting on his year in the limelight, Johnson told Macleans: I didnt know what it was going to be like. Now Im successful, and Im paying for it.

Discovery of Steroid Use Crippled Career

Johnson entered the 1988 Olympics in Seoul as a heavy favorite for victory in the prestigious one hundred meter dash. As predicted, he won the event, shattering his own record in the process. Even the most jaded running enthusiasts expressed amazement at Johnsons time of 9.79 seconds. The reason for his performance soon became evident, when traces of the drug stanozolola banned anabolic steroidwere found in his urine during a post-race test. In the worst scandal in Olympic history, Johnson was stripped of his medalit went to Lewis, who finished secondand suspended from competition. For some time following the discovery Johnson denied any wrongdoing. Only after Francis testified to Johnsons steroid use in court did the runner finally admit that he had been taking drugs since 1981.

The scandal held wide implications for amateur athletes throughout Canada, but the burden undoubtedly fell hardest on Johnson. Officials debated rescinding his 1987 win in Rome and a veritable fortune of product endorsement contracts were canceled or allowed to expire. Johnson faced tough times financially and personally, but through the long two-year suspension resolved to make a comeback and prove that he could win without the help of drugs. Whatever I lost doesnt mean a thing, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. My health is the most important thing. If I had kept taking [steroids], I could have had side effects with my liver.

Johnsons reinstatement to Olympic competition in 1990 was accompanied by a reinstatement from the Canadian government for appearances as a representative of the nation. Johnson hired a new coach, Loren Seagrave, and returned to work, visibly smaller and thinner than he had been in 1988. Although he turned 30 in December of 1991, Johnson predicted that he would make his way to the 1992 Olympics as a champion sprinter. Today his races are run in memory of his father, who died of a heart attack in 1989. Johnson still harbors a grudge for Carl Lewis and lists defeating the American as his number one priority. Still, the former star admits that he has a great deal to prove, both to himself and to the people of his adopted country. People wont forget, he told the Chicago Tribune, but theyre going to say, Great. After his downfall, the guy took care of his problems and won again. That will be the biggest thrill of my life.

Sources

Chicago Tribune, November 20, 1990.

Macleans, August8, 1988; September 12, 1988; October 10, 1988.

New York Times, November 19, 1990.

Philadelphia Inquirer, January 13, 1991.

Sports illustrated, November 30, 1987.

Washington Post, June 17, 1989; January 10, 1990; January 13, 1991.

Mark Kram

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Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson

The English playwright and poet Ben Jonson (1572-1637) is best known for his satiric comedies. An immensely learned man with an irascible and domineering personality, he was, next to Shakespeare, the greatest dramatic genius of the English Renaissance.

Ben Jonson was probably born in or near London, about a month after the death of his clergyman father. He received his formal education at Westminster School, where he studied under the renowned scholar William Camden. He did not continue his schooling, probably because his stepfather forced him to engage in the more practical business of bricklaying. He spent a brief period as a soldier in Flanders and sometime between 1592 and 1595 he was married.

Early Career

English literature, and particularly the drama, had already entered its golden age when Ben Jonson began his career. Jonson's special contribution to this remarkably exuberant age was his strong sense of artistic form and control. Although an accomplished scholar, he had an unusual appreciation of the colloquial speech habits of the unlettered, which he used with marked effect in many of his plays.

Jonson began his theatrical career as a strolling player in the provinces. By 1597 he was in London, the center of dramatic activity, and had begun writing plays for the theatrical manager Philip Henslowe. In what is probably his first piece of dramatic writing. The Isle of Dogs, Jonson ran afoul of the law. The play (which has not survived) was judged to be a "lewd" work containing "seditious and slanderous matter," and Jonson was imprisoned. In 1598 he was in more serious trouble. Having killed a fellow actor in a duel, he escaped hanging only by claiming right of clergy—that is, by reciting a few words of Latin commonly known as "neck-verse."

In the same year Jonson's first major work, Every Man in His Humour, was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, with Shakespeare taking the lead role. This play stands as a model of the "comedy of humors," in which each character's behavior is dictated by a dominating whim or affectation. It is also a very cleverly constructed play.

Jonson's next major play, Every Man out of His Humour, appeared in 1599 or early 1600, followed closely by Cynthia's Revels (1601) and Poetaster (1601). These three "comical satires" represent Jonson's contribution to the so-called war of the theaters—a short-lived feud between rival theatrical companies involving Thomas Dekker, John Marston, and perhaps other playwrights in addition to Jonson himself. After this brief but heated skirmish, Jonson turned his energies to what he clearly regarded as one of his most important works, Sejanus His Fall, which eventually appeared in 1603. This rigidly classical tragedy was admired by some of Jonson's learned contemporaries, but the great majority of playgoers considered it a pedantic bore. Jonson's only other surviving tragedy, Catiline His Conspiracy (1611), met with a similar fate.

By 1604, before he had written his most enduring works, Jonson had become known as the foremost writer of masques in England. These highly refined allegorical spectacles were designed for courtly audiences, and as a rule members of noble or royal families took part in the performances. Jonson continued writing masques throughout his career, frequently in cooperation with the famous architect Inigo Jones, who designed the stage sets and machinery.

Major Works

Jonson's dramatic genius was fully revealed for the first time in Volpone, or the Fox (1606), a brilliant satiric comedy which Jonson claimed was "fully penned" in 5 weeks. It was favorably received not only by London theatergoers but by more sophisticated audiences at Oxford and Cambridge.

Volpone contains Jonson's harshest and most unremitting criticism of human vice. All the principal figures are named (in Italian) after animals suggestive of their characters: for example, Volpone, the cunning fox, and Voltore, the ravenous vulture. The main action turns on Volpone's clever scheme to cheat those who are as greedy as he but not nearly so clever. With the help of his servant Mosca, he pretends to be deathly ill; each of the dupes, encouraged to believe that he may be designated heir to Volpone's fortune, tries to win his favor by presenting him with gifts. Volpone is too clever for his own good, however, and is finally betrayed by Mosca and exposed to the magistrates of Venice. The punishment imposed on him (and on the self-seeking dupes as well) is unusually severe for a comedy; in fact, there is almost nothing in Volpone which provokes laughter.

The satire of Jonson's next three comedies is more indulgent. Epicoene, or the Silent Woman (1609) is an elaborate intrigue built around a farcical character with an insane hatred of noise. The principal intriguer, Sir Dauphine Eugenie, tricks his noise-hating uncle Morose into marrying a woman Morose believes to be docile and quiet. She, however, turns out to be an extremely talkative person with a horde of equally talkative friends. After tormenting his uncle and in effect forcing him into a public declaration of his folly, Sir Dauphine reveals that Morose's voluble wife is actually a boy disguised as a woman.

In The Alchemist (1610) the characters are activated more by vice than folly—particularly the vices of hypocrisy and greed. Jonson's treatment of such characters, however, is less harsh than it was in Volpone, and their punishment consists largely in their humiliating self-exposure. Bartholomew Fair (1614), unlike Jonson's other comic masterpieces, does not rely on complicated intrigue and deception. Its relatively thin plot is little more than an excuse for parading an enormously rich and varied collection of unusual characters.

Later Years

After Bartholomew Fair, Jonson's dramatic powers suffered a decline. His major achievements were solidified by the appearance of his Works in a carefully prepared folio volume published in 1616. Although he continued writing plays for another 15 years, most of these efforts have been dismissed as "dotages." He remained nonetheless an impressive and respected figure, especially in literary and intellectual circles. In 1619, for example, he was awarded an honorary degree from Oxford. He was also idolized by a group comprising younger poets and playwrights who styled themselves the "tribe of Ben."

It is from this last phase of Jonson's dramatic career that much of the information about his personal life and character comes. One major source of information is the record of conversations with Jonson kept by the Scottish poet Drummond of Hawthornden. In the summer of 1618 Jonson took a walking tour to Scotland, in the course of which he spent a few days with Drummond. His host concluded that Jonson was "a great lover and praiser of himself, a contemner and scorner of others, given rather to lose a friend than a jest; jealous of every word and action of those about him, especially after drink, which is one of the elements in which he liveth; … oppressed with fancy, which hath ever mastered his reason." This somewhat unflattering portrait accords reasonably well with the personality that reveals itself indirectly in Jonson's plays.

Jonson's nondramatic writings include a grammar of English (printed in 1640), a miscellaneous collection of notes and reflections on various authors entitled Timber, or Discoveries (also printed in 1640), and a large number of poems, almost all of them written in response to particular events in the poet's experience. Most of his poetry was written in short lyric forms, which he handled with great skill. His lyric style tends to be simple and unadorned yet highly polished, as in the epigram on the death of his first daughter, which begins "Here lies to each her parents ruth,/ Mary, the daughter of their youth."

After the death of King James I in 1625, Jonson suffered a number of setbacks. His talents as a masque writer were not fully appreciated by the new king, and as a result Jonson was frequently short of money. He was paralyzed in 1628 and confined for the remainder of his life to his home in Westminster. He evidently continued his scholarly study of the classics, which had occupied him throughout his active life. He died on Aug. 6, 1637. In recognition of his stature as the foremost man of letters of his age, he was buried with great ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

Further Reading

The standard biography of Jonson is C. H. Herford and Percy Simpson, Ben Jonson: The Man and His Work (1925), which constitutes the first 2 volumes of an 11-volume edition of Jonson's works completed in 1952. The following works contain detailed criticism of most of Jonson's plays: Edward B. Partridge, The Broken Compass: A Study of the Major Comedies of Ben Jonson (1958); Jonas A. Barish, Ben Jonson and the Language of Prose Comedy (1960); and Robert E. Knoll, Ben Jonson's Plays: An Introduction (1964). Useful background studies are L. C. Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (1937); Thomas Marc Parrott and Robert H. Ball, A Short View of Elizabethan Drama (1943; rev. ed. 1958); Madeleine Doran, Endeavors of Art: A Study of Form in Elizabethan Drama (1954); and Muriel Clara Bradbrook, The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy (1955). □

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Johnson, Ben

Ben Johnson

1961-

Canadian sprinter

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was once considered the fastest man on earth, and had an Olympic gold medal to prove it. However, when he was found to be using illegal performance-enhancing drugs, he was stripped of his honors and suspended from competition.

Shy and Quiet

Born in Falmouth, Jamaica, Johnson was the fifth of six children of Ben Johnson, Sr., a telephone repair worker who also had a small farm, and Gloria Johnson. Johnson grew up playing outside, swimming all day, and running whenever he could. As a child, he idolized Jamaican sprinter Donald Quarrie and Trinidadian sprinter Hasely Crawford. He also wanted to be like his older brother, Edward, who was a local running star. In school, Johnson was quiet and shy, perhaps as a result of a speech impediment; he frequently stuttered.

In 1972, Johnson's mother decided that she wanted her children to have a better life than they could have in Jamaica, and took Johnson and three of his siblings to Toronto, Canada, where she had found work as a cook. Although Johnson's father joined the family for a short time, he eventually returned to his job with the Jamaican telephone company, visiting the family on holidays and staying in touch over the phone.

Johnson's stutter had not improved, and combined with his Jamaican accent, made him self-conscious in school. Placed in remedial classes, he finally graduated from Yorkdale High School with basic reading and math skills. He briefly attended Centennial College, a community college in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, but quit to devote himself to track.

Trains with Charles Francis

In 1977 he and his brother Edward began training with coach Charles Francis at the Scarborough Optimist Track Club. Johnson was not promising when he first arrived: he could barely run one lap around the club track. However, under Francis's guidance, he gained weight and strength. In 1978, he came in fourth in the 50 meters at the Canadian National Indoor Track and Field Championships. In 1980, he came in second in the 100 meters in the Canadian men's championships.

In 1980, Johnson was beaten for the first time by American sprinter Carl Lewis . It would not be the last time Lewis beat Johnson, and Johnson became determined to beat Lewis. At the 1984 Olympics, however, Lewis won four gold medals, and Johnson had to settle for two bronze medals in the 100 meters and 400 meters.

The Fastest Man in the World

In 1985, Johnson finally beat Lewis at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. For the next two years he was the top sprinter in the world, winning the 100 meters in the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow. In 1987 he set four indoor world records and won the outdoor World Championships in Rome with a world-record time of 9.83. In Rome, Johnson finished a meter ahead of Lewis, and was widely hailed as the fastest man on earth and a Canadian national hero.

Lewis told members of the press that some of the other athletes in the Rome competition must be using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. He didn't mention Johnson by name, but it was clear that he meant Johnson. Johnson, like the other athletes, was tested after his Rome victory and passed, making it seem that Lewis's charges were unfounded and based only on jealousy. In addition to Lewis's charges, Johnson struggled with a hamstring injury, numerous endorsement deals and business opportunities, and questions about his amateur status; he was making so much money from his endorsements that he hardly qualified as an amateur.

Stripped of His Gold Medal

Nevertheless, Johnson was expected to win gold in the 100 meters at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. He did win, setting a new record with an amazing time of 9.79 seconds. But when he was tested for drugs authorities found traces of an anabolic steroid, stanozolol, in his urine. Johnson was stripped of his gold medal, which went to Lewis, who had come in second. In addition, he was suspended from competition for two years. Johnson denied having taken drugs for some time, until Francis testified in court that Johnson had been using them. Johnson finally admitted that he had been taking drugs since 1981, making all his previous achievements seem questionable.

Stripped of His World Records

Johnson lost all his endorsement contracts, and officials considered stripping him of his 1987 Rome victory. Francis testified in 1989 that Johnson had indeed taken steroids before setting his Rome world record. In 1989, the International Amateur Athletic Foundation passed a resolution stating that as of January 1, 1990, Johnson's previous world records would be declared invalid. As of that date, Carl Lewis held the record for the 100 meters with a time of 9.92, and lee McRae held the 60-meter record with a time of 6.50.

In 1990, Johnson was reinstated to Olympic competition. He began working with a new coach, Loren Sea-grave, and planned to compete in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He told Nancy Wood in Maclean's, "I'll win the gold medal for sure." However, when he went to the Olympics, he did not make it into the final competition in the 100 meters. In January of 1992, Johnson competed in a Montreal track meet, where he was tested for drugs and found to be using testosterone. As a result, the International Amateur Athletic Foundation slapped him with a lifetime ban from competition.

Chronology

1961 Born in Falmouth, Jamaica
1972 Moves to Canada with his mother and siblings
1984 Competes in Summer Olympics, wins two bronze medals
1987 Earns four indoor world records
1988 Wins gold medal in Seoul Olympics, but it is stripped when his drug use is revealed
1988 Banned from competition for two years
1990 Reinstated to Olympic eligibility
1990 Stripped of his world records
1992 Fails to make finals in Barcelona Olympic 100 meters
1993 Banned from competition for life after testing positive for drugs
1999 Appeals life ban, but is denied

Awards and Accomplishments

1987 Sets four indoor world records, but they are later stripped because Johnson set them while on drugs
1988 Wins gold in 100 meters in Seoul Olympics, but it is stripped from him when his drug use is revealed

In Maclean's, Mary Nemeth quoted Carl Lewis's agent, Joe Douglas, who said of Johnson's career, "I think his entire life has been a make-believe world. He has talent, but his performances are chemical. When you lose everything, I don't think anybody should be surprised that there's temptation." In 1999, Johnson appealed to be reinstated to competition, but his appeal was denied. Johnson told Charles P. Pierce in Esquire, "I cannot get my name back. Over the years, the media make me a monster, a villain. They make me a one-way figure on a two-way street."

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

"Ben Johnson," Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 1, Gale Research, 1992.

Periodicals

"Ban Again," Sports Illustrated, (March 15, 1993): 9.

Benjamin, Daniel, "Shame of the Game," Time, (October 10, 1998): 74.

"Denied," Maclean's, (August 30, 1999): 9.

Hersch, Hank, "The Erasing of Johnson," Sports Illustrated, (September 18, 1989): 17.

Moore, Kenny, "Clean and Slower," Sports Illustrated, (July 22, 1991): 26.

Moore, Kenny, "Rising From the Shadows," Sports Illustrated, (November 30, 1987): 94.

Nemeth, Mary, "Scandal: At 21, Ben Johnson Faces a Lifetime Ban from Track," Maclean's, (March 15, 1993): 18.

Noden, Merrell, "A Dirty Coach Comes Clean," Sports Illustrated, (March 13, 1989): 22.

O'Brien, Richard, "A New Start," Sports Illustrated, (January 21, 1991): 26.

Pierce, Charles P., "Ten Years Later, He Can Laugh About It," Esquire, (February, 1999): 50.

Wood, Chris, "Dash of Humility," Maclean's, (July 27, 1992): 50.

Wood, Nancy, "A Clean Break: Ben Johnson Gets Set to Compete Again," Maclean's, (August 20, 1990): 14.

Sketch by Kelly Winters

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Jonson, Ben (1572–1637)

JONSON, BEN (15721637)

JONSON, BEN (15721637), English playwright and poet. A highly influential dramatist of Jacobean London and the court of his day, Jonson was a colorful character of early theater history. His plays communicate much about the vicissitudes of life for those who shared the playwright's time and place. Jonson's father was a clergyman; his death a month before Jonson's birth was to affect the play-wright's early life, for Jonson's mother soon married a master bricklayer, Robert Brett. Jonson was educated at Westminster School, where the antiquary William Camden, who was the master, became his intellectual inspiration. It is not certain, however, how long Jonson remained at school. According to the Scottish poet William Drummond of Hawthornden (15851649), friend and recorder of his conversations, Jonson was "taken" from Westminster and began an apprenticeship in bricklaying. He left London briefly to serve as a soldier in the Low Countries, but by 1594 he had returned. He married, and in 1595 he entered the Tylers and Bricklayers Company.

Soon after this he was writing and performing as an actor with the Earl of Pembroke's Men. In 1597 the company got into trouble for presenting The Isle of Dogs (now lost), a seditious play that Jonson finished for Thomas Nashe, and subsequently they had to disband. Jonson was constantly at odds with the authorities. In 1598, the same year that he produced his highly successful comedy, Every Man in His Humour, for Shakespeare's company, the Chamberlain's Men, he killed an actor called Gabriel Spencer in a duel. When arraigned for the offense, he successfully pleaded "benefit of clergy"that is, he escaped a hanging due to his ability to read. While in prison for this offense, he became a Catholic, though he reverted to the Protestant faith twelve years later.

Jonson was frequently punished for the subject matter of his plays, which were often interpreted as being too satirically interested in national or court politics. In response to his tragedy Sejanus His Fall, performed at the Globe in 1603 and published in 1605, he was suspected of portraying the political crimes of Robert Devereux, the earl of Essex. He was jailed in 1605 with George Chapman (15591634) and possibly John Marston (c. 15751634), collaborators with him on the London satire, Eastward Ho!, because it alluded to King James I's acceptance of payments for knighthoods. Despite these troubles, Jonson always seemed to emerge unharmed, and ultimately he excelled within the context of court entertainment. This is borne out by the success of his many masques, written for members of the court to perform. Some of these were produced in collaboration with the designer and architect Inigo Jones (15731652). In 1616 he was given a royal pension that was similar, in today's terms, to being granted the post of "poet laureate" in England. Thereafter he styled himself "the King's Poet."

His principal dramatic works, other than those already mentioned, include satirical pieces like Cynthia's Revels (1600) and Poetaster (1601)both contributing to a perceived dialogue among the playwrights, or what has been called "the war of the theaters" played out between Jonson, Marston, and Thomas Dekker. Other satires include Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), Epicene, or the Silent Woman (1609), The Devil Is an Ass (1616), and the rumbustuously carnivalesque Bartholomew Fair (1614). The most famous of the playwright's works are undoubtedly Volpone, or the Fox (1606) and The Alchemist (1610), which are regularly produced on the stage to this day.

Jonson also wrote poetry including his Epigrams and a selection called The Forrest. These were published in his collected Works of 1616. Another selection of verse called Underwoods was published in a collection in 1640. This also included Timber; or Discoveries made upon Men and Matter, a prose work that comprised some personal musings on texts he had read. Jonson is best remembered for plays that, while showing his audience the world in which they lived, drew heavily on classical influences. These sources were often noted in the margins of Jonson's published worksnowhere more so than in the collection that he himself put together, the folio of 1616. Never before had there been such a publication, which included dramatic works written in English, and it was this endeavor that probably inspired the production of Shakespeare's First Folio of plays in 1623. Jonson demonstrated perceptiveness and foresight concerning the universal nature of Shakespeare's work when he wrote in a prefatory poem to his dead friend's collection that Shakespeare's plays were "not of an age, but for all time!" Jonson's plays belonged to early modern London and to England's court, and therefore to his age.

In 1623, Jonson suffered the catastrophe of seeing many of his papers burned in a fire. Although he continued to write into the Caroline period, he never regained the favor he had once won at court. In 1628 this extraordinary personality suffered a paralytic stroke, and he died in 1637 plagued by ill health and financial insecurity. He is buried in Westminster Abbey under a tombstone bearing the inscription, "O rare Ben Jonson."

See also Drama: English ; English Literature and Language ; Shakespeare, William .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Jonson, Ben. The Poetaster, or, The Arraignment; Sejanus, His Fall; The Devil Is an Ass, The New Inn, or, The Light Heart. Edited by Margaret Jane Kidnie. Oxford and New York, 2000.

. Three Comedies: Volpone, The Alchemist, Bartholomew Fair. Michael Jamieson, ed. London and New York, 1966.

Jonson, Ben, George Chapman, and John Marston. Eastward Ho! Edited by C. G. Petter. London and New York, 1994. Originally published London, 1973.

Secondary Sources

Kay, W. David. Ben Jonson: A Literary Life. Basingstoke, U.K., and London, 1995.

Shakespeare, William. The First Folio of Shakespeare. Prepared by Charles Hinman; 2nd ed. New York and London, 1996.

Eva Griffith

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Jonson, Ben

Ben Jonson

Born: 1572
London, England
Died: August 6, 1637
London, England

English writer, playwright, and poet

Ben Jonson was an English playwright and poet best known for his satiric comedies (types of comedies that poke fun at human weaknesses). In many peoples opinion he was, next to William Shakespeare (15641616), the greatest dramatic genius of the English Renaissance (roughly the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries).

Early career

Ben Jonson was probably born in or near London, England, about a month after the death of his father, a clergyman (someone who works for the church). His father gained his position when King Henry VIII (14911547) ruled England, but lost it after Queen Mary (15161558) took the throne.

Jonson's mother then married a bricklayer. This may be why he did not continue his schooling. His stepfather made him work in the more practical business of bricklaying. Jonson also spent some time as a soldier and a traveling actor. He married sometime between 1592 and 1595.

Many people thought that English literature, and particularly drama, had already reached as high as it could when Ben Jonson began his career. But Jonson helped it gain even higher goals. Jonson's special gift was his strong sense of artistic form and control. Although an accomplished scholar, he could also write in the way everyday people spoke. It was because of this skill that he was liked by both people who were well read and by people who did not have an advanced education.

Major works

Jonson's first major play was Every Man in His Humour. It was performed by a theater group called the Lord Chamberlain's Men. William Shakespeare performed the lead role. This play is a model of what is called the "comedy of humors," in which each character's action is ruled by a whim (impulse) or affectation (artificial behavior meant to impress others). After this play Jonson wrote Every Man out of His Humour in 1599 or early 1600, followed closely by Cynthia's Revels (1601) and Poetaster (1601).

Jonson gained fame when he wrote Volpone, or the Fox in 1606. It was loved not only by the people in London but also by the scholars at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. This was a major success for Jonson. After Volpone, Jonson wrote Epicoene, or the Silent Woman (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614).

Later years

After Bartholomew Fair, Jonson did not write very well. However, many young poets and playwrights considered him a hero and called themselves "sons of Ben" or the "tribe of Ben." He was always considered an impressive and respected figure.

Much of the information about Jonson's personal life comes to us after this last period of playwriting. He spent a lot of time with the Scottish poet William Drummond of Hawthornden (15851649) in 1618. Drummond wrote down all the conversations he had with Jonson. Drummond said that Jonson was "a great lover and praiser of himself, a contemner [despiser] and scorner of others, given rather to lose a friend than a jest." In other words, Jonson made many jokes about other people and considered himself superior to others.

Jonson also wrote many other nondramatic writings, including a grammar of English, a miscellaneous (made of many different parts) collection of notes, and reflections on various authors entitled Timber, or Discoveries (also printed in 1640). He also wrote a large number of poems, almost all of them written in response to particular events in the poet's experience. Most of his poetry was written in short lyric (songlike) forms, which he handled with great skill. Jonson's poetic style also tends to be simple and unadorned yet highly polished, as in the epigram (a short witty poem) on the death of his first daughter, which begins "Here lies to each her parents ruth [sorrow],/Mary, the daughter of their youth."

After the death of King James I of England (16031625) in 1625, Jonson suffered a number of setbacks. His talents were not fully appreciated by the new king, and as a result Jonson was frequently short of money. He was paralyzed in 1628 due to illness and confined for the remainder of his life to his home in Westminster. He continued his scholarly study of the classics, which had occupied him throughout his active life.

Jonson died on August 6, 1637. Because he was considered one of the most accomplished writers of the time, he was given the special honor of being buried in Westminster Abbey, in England.

For More Information

Barish, Jonas A. Ben Jonson and the Language of Prose Comedy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960.

Cave, Richard Allen. Ben Jonson. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Kay, W. David. Ben Jonson: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Partridge, Edward B. The Broken Compass: A Study of the Major Comedies of Ben Jonson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.

Riggs, David. Ben Jonson: A Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

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Jonson, Ben

Ben Jonson, 1572–1637, English dramatist and poet, b. Westminster, London. The high-spirited buoyancy of Jonson's plays and the brilliance of his language have earned him a reputation as one of the great playwrights in English literature. After a brief term at bricklaying, his stepfather's trade, and after military service in Flanders, he began working for Philip Henslowe as an actor and playwright. In 1598 he was tried for killing another actor in a duel but escaped execution by claiming right of clergy (that he could read and write).

His first important play, Every Man in His Humour, was produced in 1598, with Shakespeare in the cast. In 1599 its companion piece, Every Man out of His Humour, was produced. In The Poetaster (1601) Jonson satirized several of his fellow playwrights, particularly Dekker and Marston, who were writing at that time for a rival company of child actors. He collaborated with Chapman and Marston on the comedy Eastward Ho! (1604). A passage in the play, derogatory to the Scots, offended James I, and the three playwrights spent a brief time in prison.

Jonson's great period, both artistically and financially, began in 1606 with the production of Volpone. This was followed by his three other comic masterpieces, Epicoene (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). Jonson became a favorite of James I and wrote many excellent masques for the court. He was the author of two Roman tragedies, Sejanus (1603) and Catiline (1611). With the unsuccessful production of The Devil Is an Ass in 1616 Jonson's good fortune declined rapidly. His final plays were failures, and with the accession of Charles I in 1625 his value at court was less appreciated.

Jonson's plays, written along classical lines, are marked by a pungent and uncompromising satire, by a liveliness of action, and by numerous humor characters, whose single passion or oddity overshadows all their other traits. He was a moralist who sought to improve the ways of men by portraying human foibles and passions through exaggeration and distortion. Jonson's nondramatic poetry includes Epigrams (1616); The Forrest (1616), notable for the two beautiful songs: "Drink to me only with thine eyes" and "Come, my Celia, let us prove" ; and Underwoods (1640). His principal prose work Timber; or, Discoveries (1640) is a collection of notes and reflections on miscellaneous subjects.

Jonson exerted a strong influence over his contemporaries. Although arrogant and contentious, he was a boon companion, and his followers, sometimes called the "sons of Ben," loved to gather with him in the London taverns. Examples of his conversation were recorded in Conversations with Ben Jonson by Drummond of Hawthornden.

See Jonson's works (11 vol., 1925–52); biographies by M. Chute (1953), R. Miles (1986), D. Riggs (1989), and I. Donaldson (2012); studies by E. B. Partridge (1958), J. A. Barish (1960), W. Trimpi (1962), G. B. Jackson (1969), J. G. Nichols (1970), J. B. Bamborough (1970), J. A. Bryant (1973), W. D. Wolf (1973), and D. H. Craig (1989).

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Jonson, Ben

Jonson, Ben (1572–1637). English Renaissance poet and playwright, the most forthright and politically conservative of his contemporaries. His writing—poetry, drama, and opinions—is a curious blend of disciplined classicism and carnival grotesque. He was imprisoned twice, once for his part in the scurrilous play Isle of Dogs and once for killing an actor in a duel. He converted to Roman catholicism whilst in jail. Along with John Marston (with whom he exchanged dramatic fire in the ‘war of the theatres’, 1599–1600) and Thomas Middleton, he created ‘Jacobean city comedy’. His best-known plays are Volpone (1605), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). Socially and culturally aspirant, Jonson attracted royal patronage, creating a series of court masques (in collaboration with Inigo Jones) and receiving a life pension from James I. Unlike most of his fellow-playwrights, he carefully supervised the publication of his plays for his grandiosely named Workes in 1616. The latter part of his career was less successful, though he continued to be lionized, notably by a group of young royalist writers known as the ‘tribe of Ben’, who later formed the nucleus of the ‘Cavalier poets’. He died in 1637 and was buried in Westminster abbey.

Gordon Macmullan

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Jonson, Ben

Jonson, Ben (1572–1637) English dramatist, lyric poet, and actor. A friend of Shakespeare, he was popular and influential in Elizabethan and Stuart drama. His comedies of humours include Volpone (1606), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). He also wrote the neoclassical tragedies Sejanus and Catiline, and several court masques.

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